Global Ethics Corner: Ethics and Experts

Apr 3, 2009

How should we reward experts and how much? When the experts fail, should populist outrage be directed at those individuals or the system?

Populism rings of openness, equality, and justice. In the American republic, with an individualist ethos and a belief in success, "Anyone can be president."

While laws are legitimated by elections, lawmakers are an elected elite, and other elites, "lobbyists," shape the rules.

Thus elitism isn't respectable; feels of money, backrooms, and elicit bargains; and implies proprietary skills or knowledge.

There's the rub. Elitism based on skills or knowledge is good. It's called expertise and we pay more for it.

While we ask "Joe the Plumbers" to fix our sinks, we don't ask them to diagnose our illnesses or install our computers. For financial expertise, we turn to mutual funds, pension managers, or Bernie Madoffs.

In a market-based republic, expertise spawns wealth, access, and privilege.

AIG bonus babies were experts who failed, and their bull's-eyes are well earned. But individuals with buckets of cash are easy targets.

Were their choices unethical, if they entered a system sanctioned by law and society, and then played by those rules? The economic environment changed, exposing the system.

What do you think? How should we reward experts? How much? Should populist outrage be directed at people or the system?

By William Vocke

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